Pinterest Files: Are HAES and Fatspiration Just Another Form of Capitalist Nudging?

If you’ve spent any time on Pinterest (which I do. oh, I do.) you’ll have noticed the tendency to pin a lot of stuff about healthy eating, exercise, and weight.  The content of these pins varies a lot: some are blatant body-shaming and weight-loss focused, some are “fitspiration” that quietly shames non-normative bodies, and some really do seem targeted at health, but still kind of make me suspicious because of the stigmatizing shaming world in which I live.  Quite a few of these pins live on boards with deceptive titles like “Body Positive” and “Self Care.”

Unsurprisingly, fat-positive, body-positive, HAES, and other anti-shame folks are fighting back through their own pins.  I’ve been happy to find that if I actively curate my follow list and am ruthless in cutting boards, I can create a fairly body-loving environment, where obesity shame infographics are non-existent and photos of glorious fierce fat femmes abound.  But does this environment really solve the problem?

For me, unfortunately the answer is no.  Why?  Well, because in an active attempt to turn the tables on thinspiration, a lot of the folks who are pinning HAES and body-positive stuff still adhere to an overarching meme that includes thinspirers and fatspirers alike.  This meme is steeped in individual responsibility, goal orientation, and (gasp!) capitalism.  I don’t think it’s intentional, for the most part, but taken as a whole, I’ve been experiencing these pinboards I follow as a kind of fat-loving version of the capitalist “improve thyself!” meme the thinspo folks and the exercise hounds put out there.

So how can we avoid this meme?  I think a lot of it comes from the imperative mood.  The imperative is a command, for example, “eat better,” or “exercise more.”  Even when it’s seemingly positive—”love yourself,” “take 20 minutes a day to meditate,” “take time to make your body beautiful whatever its size”—in a society that is hyper-focused on individual responsibility, this advice can come off as just another obligation.  I don’t want to make my just-fine-the-way-it-is body beautiful!  I want to take a nap in my sweatpants!

Ideas like body love and health at any size come from a good place, but they need to be communicated in a way that doesn’t imply an obligation to love or health.  We need to not replace hardcore exercise messages with reminders to take a slow daily walk (not everyone can walk, not everyone has 20 minutes left in their day).  We need to not replace body-shaming messages with requirements to practice self-love (depression is valid, taking time to practice self-love may paradoxically increase stress for a very busy person).  The messages I do like to see on Pinterest and other forums are those that neither judge nor command.  Messages like “you are beautiful,” “however you feel about yourself, right now, is okay,” “I support you,” “I want to help you find time and space to care for yourself in whatever way works best for you.”  Maybe these aren’t very well suited to macros or infographics, but I think messages of community support are absolutely vital to our body-positive community.  Instead of telling others what to do, we need to send the message that we are all here for each other, and that we support each others’ processes and are asking non-judgmentally how we can best help each other.

I’ll start with my own declaration: I am here for you.  Wherever you are in your process, however you feel about yourself or your body, if you need support, please let me know.  If I have the time and energy to provide it, I absolutely want to.

About Avory

Avory Faucette is a queer feminist activist, writer, and public speaker. Zie graduated from the University of Iowa with a JD in 2009, focusing on international human rights and gender/sexuality issues in the law. Hir current work focuses on queer identity, policy, and marginalized identities under the queer umbrella. As a genderqueer person, zie comments frequently on non-binary identity, transgender and genderqueer issues, and media coverage of these populations. Zie also speaks at colleges, universities, and events on transgender and queer issues and conducts trainings on related topics.

Posted on June 1, 2012, in body & size. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I quite agree with you, although I spend much more time on Tumblr than on pinterest, I see the same kind of thing. I find that the ‘inspirational’ kinds of messaging that chafe me the least are the pictures that include very little explicit messaging at all. Seeing a wide variety of people just declaring to the world “This is me” puts me in a better headspace than anything proscriptive. Oddly enough, ‘outfit of the day’- type fashion posts are the most likely to be like this; a post that says, “this is what I wore today, and I got this item of clothing at X store” seems a lot more affirming of individuality than anything that has to do with explicitly telling me how to feel. Even photo blogs that have a relatively neutral theme, like pictures of hands, or vegetables, or whatever, can make me feel pretty positive about the world. There’s a lot of beauty out there, you know? Of course, this is a pretty personal preference, and I guess I’m influenced by my own selection of fashion tumblrs that feature predominantly non-normative body types.

    • Yes! That’s kind of what I tried to do with my Gender Expressions pinterest. There’s so much “this is what you should like,” or “this is what a queer person looks like,” so I just decided to create a board with all sorts of people, no comments, to show the range of gender without any explicit comments on what it means.

  2. Yes! You’ve put into words something which I’ve always felt. A lot of people don’t understand why being told to “cheer up” or “think positively” is not something I find supportive. All of my emotions are equally valid, and clearly if I was able to think positively at that moment, then I would! Personally, I find those messages about beautifying oneself to be very normative – sending the message that we must all strive to fit into the societal image of beauty, and should feel guilty if we don’t try to do so. Frankly, my mood or bodily appearance are no-one’s business but mine – if you don’t like it, don’t look!

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